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Norfolk State coach Robert Jones on NCAA Tournament win: ‘Why not do it again?’

norfolk state robert jones
Head coach Robert Jones of the Norfolk State Spartans coaches during the game against the Appalachian State Mountaineers in the First Four round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. (Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images.)

Norfolk State was in control, up 16 with 14:29 to go, and then in a flash – it was down.

A 24-4 Appalachian State run over the next 7:45 put the Mountaineers up four. Norfolk State was treading water.

“This is a tournament of champions. Sixteen points is not really a big lead in a tournament of champions, because everyone has championship pedigree,” NSU coach Robert Jones said after his team fought back to post a 54-53 win, advancing to a first-round matchup Saturday against top seed Gonzaga.

Defense was the key – the Spartans held App State without a field goal in the final 5:48.

It was actually a rock fight late. Norfolk State went up 52-51 on a J.J. Matthews jumper with 3:08 to go, and that would be the last make from the field for the night.

ASU’s Adrian Delph made two free throws with 1:03 to go to put the Mountaineers back up one. Norfolk State’s Devante Carter missed a jumper with 47 seconds left, and Appalachian State had a chance to extend, but Delph missed a jumper with 15 seconds on the clock to give NSU one last chance.

Carter was fouled on a drive with 10 seconds left, and made both free throws.

App State had the last shot, but a Michael Almonacy three missed at the buzzer.

“Wow, what a game. March Madness is back, right? Survive and advance, that’s exactly what we did,” Jones said. “We knew that Appalachian State wasn’t going to go away. They came back from a big deficit earlier in the season to another opponent. So we told the guys that. And they did it. Then we went cold. And they got hot. And it made it a basketball game.

“Once again, I’d like to say kudos to my guys for relaxing and staying calm down the stretch when we could have easily folded. I think they got up four points, and we kept our calm, and we were able to survive and advance, and we’re able to cancel that 9:30 flight tomorrow,” Jones said.

The reward being a game against the undefeated ‘Zags, which the ESPN Basketball Power Index has as a 30.8-point favorite, with a 98.8 percent win probability.

Cue up my favorite line from the movie “Dumb and Dumber” – “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

“Like I tell people all the time, the pressure was getting here. Being from a one-bid league — everyone who is in a one-bid league across the country, that’s where all the pressure is at is trying to get here. Once you get here you’re playing with house money. You just gotta go out and play,” Jones said.

“Yeah, I know we’re playing the Lakers of college basketball, the Brooklyn Nets of college basketball. They got three All-Americans, one first-team, two third-team. We know it’s going to be a challenge. It’s no secret that it’s going to be a challenge. But at the same time we have to lace them up, and we have to play the basketball game.

“We’ve been in situations before as a program, with Missouri and Alabama in the NIT and things like that. And no one gave us a shot, and we were able to come out on top. It’s a whole different animal in Gonzaga, and we understand that, trust me. We understand that. At the same time, as a program we have the two largest victories by point spread in both the NIT and NCAA. So why not do it again?”

Story by Chris Graham

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